Makhan Singh Leads a Workers’ March

The Paintings Makhan Singh

The march of South Asian workers demanding their rights is a replica of an actual photograph of this 1937 event. The road is the then Government Road in Nairobi – now Moi Avenue. The tall building, the Ismaili Mosque, still stands  as do most of the buildings along that road. The person holding up one end of the banner is Makhan Singh; founder of Kenya’s Trade Union Movement – the demands made in Kiswahili, Gujarati, Urdu and English are for a 25% wage increase, improved conditions of work and an 8-hour working day. A group of workers appear on the left-hand side carrying a banner which reads ‘Labour Trade Union of East Africa’, an organisation which was formed much later in 1949. The armed white observers and the alarmed Governor and his wife represent the British colonial establishment; the richshaw puller in rags (being garlanded by an Asian woman passerby) depicts the general state of the oppressed African population.

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